SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford has praised healthcare workers tackling the coronavirus pandemic after swapping the corridors of Westminster for the hospital where she previously worked.

The consultant breast surgeon has joined thousands of volunteers helping the NHS and taken up a backroom role working in NHS Ayrshire and Arran as part of the team developing the response to Covid-19.

Her husband Hans Pieper, a former GP, has also signed up to help the local Covid hub.

Nearly 10,000 people – including more than 4700 healthcare staff – have come forward to help the NHS in Scotland during the pandemic, according to figures from the first week of April.

Whitford, MP for Central Ayrshire, said frontline health and social care staff deserved praise and support for carrying out life-saving work during the crisis.

She said: “I know how emotional many of them feel seeing the expression of thanks every Thursday evening with the Clap for Carers.

“It is heartening to see thousands of people in Scotland step forward to assist our NHS, whether as clinical staff or resilience volunteers, during this unprecedented and critical time – offering their unique skills and expertise to support our health and care services and our communities.”

Whitford said she and her husband wanted to contribute in any way possible to help during the biggest public health crisis anyone has ever experienced.

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She said: “I am not doing anything heroic but I am in a backroom role; working with colleagues from hospital, general practice, community and social care services to strengthen our health and social care network in Ayrshire.

“Our hospital teams have done an amazing job of remodelling the service to increase critical care capacity and provide clear access pathways for patients with Covid-19, or with all the other acute health conditions that still need to be dealt with.

“However, as we go forward, many patients will actually be treated or cared for in the community so we need to ensure we are working as a single team and providing backup to our community health and care colleagues.”

She added: “Swapping the corridors of Westminster for the corridors of University Hospital Crosshouse – where I worked as a consultant breast cancer surgeon for almost two decades – feels a little strange but also rather lovely.

“It is nice to see so many familiar faces but what is incredible is everyone’s determination to overcome the epidemic and their flexibility in creating innovative solutions and new ways of working to achieve this.”

Whitford said she hoped a legacy of the Covid-19 crisis would be recognition of who the real “key” workers are.

“When we emerge from this dark tunnel, after the epidemic is controlled, we owe our dedicated and tireless NHS and social care staff, as well as all frontline workers, a huge debt of gratitude,” she said.

“Let’s hope that what this crisis has done is bring home to people who the real ‘key’ workers are and their true worth to our society.”

She said SNP MPs would urge Westminster to find a way to honour them – starting with recognising the contribution of those who have settled in the UK from elsewhere and ensuring workers are paid properly for what they do.

“From cleaners to carers, nurses to maintenance workers, GPs to paramedics – their sacrifice and hard work must be recognised and remembered,” she added.

Whitford spent time as volunteer surgeon in a UN hospital in Gaza in the early 1990s and has returned to the Middle East since then to perform cancer operations and hold clinics.

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Meanwhile Olympic rower Polly Swann has joined the fight against coronavirus as a junior doctor working in a Scottish hospital, while still training for the postponed games.

The 31-year-old silver medallist has taken up the role after finishing her medical studies at the University of Edinburgh. She said: “A lot of junior doctors have been moved to the most critical parts of the NHS, so interim foundation year doctors are backfilling their roles.

“I’m definitely not a frontline ICU worker, but I’m glad I can still help to ease the burden in some way.”

She added her coach, Tom Pattichis, has devised a training programme to prepare her for the Olympic games outside of her working hours. “I had the experience of training alongside working when I was in my last few months of medical school last year so it’s not entirely new to me,” she said.

“I’m staying with my parents for lockdown so I have a rowing machine in their hallway, some dumbbells in the living room and a wattbike in my dad’s toolshed, which I’m sure is very annoying for them.”

Swann said the postponed Olympics will be “the most phenomenal” ever after lockdown.

She said: “The Olympics is a celebration of human achievement and it brings people together – it’s about more than just medals and more than even sport.”